Where Everything is Moral
What a strange place to build a community! The theme of the fourth book of the Torah is found in its name, Bamidbar, “In The Desert.” Why the desert? Why is the desert so fundamental to all the stories and laws that develop through this book? Were they really considered to be in the desert? Was their environment not perfectly safe, with clouds of protection, Manna, and fresh water gushing from Miriam’s well? That sure does not sound like a desert experience to me! I picture the desert almost as a different planet, empty and yet teeming with life forms, many of which are dangerous. I think of snakes and scorpions. I imagine thirst and heat. I picture lions and vultures. I think of the desert and I think of death. Yet, it was specifically in the desert that the Children of Israel began a new stage in the development of their life as a nation. Why?
There are some environments so separated from the rest of the world that they seem to exist in a different dimension:
“Fabro told me, ‘I don’t know exactly what has happened. I am the same person, yet I am no longer the same. Under the sea everything is-” he paused to be sure of what he wanted to say. “Under the sea everything is moral.”’ (Jacques-Yves Cousteau – The Living Sea 1963)
How interesting that in an environment so hostile to a human being, so filled with violence of creatures, many monstrous, devouring each other, swimming in this explosion of life, color and creativity, that Fabro would see a world where everything is moral! Things were as they were supposed to be. Even the violence is part of the sea’s natural state. Everything is exactly as it should be. That is the morality that Fabro sensed, and that was the morality that changed him.
The Sinai desert was for us what the sea was for Fabro and Cousteau; it was a place where we would see the nature of life as moral. Yes, there was danger. There was violence, but it is a place where all is exactly as it should be. It was the place where we learned the morality of nature, and learned that it is we, human beings, who disturb the basic morality of the world. We had to build our first community with the awareness of the way we can disturb the basic morality of God’s creation, and to commit ourselves to constructing that community to mirror the morality of the desert.
Why not the sea?
To be continued…
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